Towards environmentally sustainable healthcare: a new frontier for dietitians

Stefanie Carino1,2, Andrea Elliott1,2, Erin Brennan1, Claire Palermo2, Jorja Collins1,2

1Dietetics Department, Eastern Health, Melbourne, Australia, 2Department of Nutrition and Dietetics, Monash University, Melbourne, Australia

The carbon footprint of healthcare is 7% of Australia’s total. Allied health professionals have a responsibility to recognise their role as leaders in achieving a sustainable healthcare sector. In particular, in hospitals, foodservices contributes to the environmental footprint. Foodservices also have the potential to positively contribute to the local food system and demonstrate institutional leadership in environmentally sustainable healthcare. Dietitians are well placed to create change in this area, but traditional clinical and foodservice roles have not typically encompassed environmental sustainability considerations.

For this reason, a novel role was created for a Sustainable Food Systems Dietitian at a large multi-site healthcare network in Victoria. This role aims to embed environmental sustainability within foodservices at the health service. The roles and responsibilities for this position were based on the ‘Individual plus Policy, System & Environmental Conceptual Framework for Action’ by Tagtow ¹. This framework is a blueprint for responding to challenges by developing and implementing multidimensional strategies using a systems orientation to achieve greatest impacts. This includes areas such as engagement and education, facilitating partnerships, aligning and advancing policies and practices, and fostering physical settings to support sustainable food systems.

Key areas of focus have included upskilling foodservice students and dietitians, increasing engagement amongst hospital staff, becoming involved in member organisations, driving foodservice projects, and policy advocacy.

As an innovative area of dietetic practice in hospitals, this position serves as a novel case demonstrating how the role of allied health professionals can be reimagined to chart a path towards sustainable healthcare.

¹ Tagtow A, Herman D, Cunningham-Sabo L. Next-Generation Solutions to Address Adaptive Challenges in Dietetics Practice: The I+ PSE Conceptual Framework for Action. Journal of the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics. 2021 Mar 11.


Biography:

Stefanie works as a Sustainable Food Systems Dietitian at Eastern Health and has previously worked as a clinical dietitian. She is also final year PhD candidate in Monash’s Department of Nutrition, Dietetics and Food. Her research explores the environmental sustainability of hospital foodservices, using qualitative research methods to understand the barriers and enablers for sustainable practices, both locally and in exemplar hospitals around the world.

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